Spend $10 million dollars on anything, and you’re going to have high expectations. That’s how much Dan Dorsch, owner of Fun Bike Center in Lakeland, Fla., poured into a complex that’s home not only to the 60,000 square-foot showroom, but also to three restaurants, a bike storage facility, UPS and FedEx shipping centers, a 25,000-square-foot service bay and a liquor store. As he says, it’s a one-stop-shop. “We have everything from band-aids to helmets to jackets to socks — anything you’d need to ride a recreational vehicle, from ATVs, personal watercraft and utility vehicles to motorcycles — we have it. We sell motorcycles from $495 up to $50,000.”
The scene is certainly impressive. The day I arrive, a group fun ride is just about to commence. No fewer than 150 leather-clad bike enthusiasts roared out of the parking lot en masse onto the blazing Florida asphalt and rode everything from cruisers to sport bikes, with the $1.5 million-dollar fully tricked-out party bus leading the way. “The bus is a moving billboard and hospitality suite,” says Dorsch. “If we go on a ride, we set the bus up at the end, and we can serve soft drinks and lemonade and have a place to go in and get out of the hot weather.” Dorsch says today’s turn out is normal and sometimes it’s much larger, with up to 1,000 participants in some benefit rides.
The business has been at the same location for 15 years, but the cavernous, purpose-built showroom is relatively new, being completed in November 2007. There are rows upon rows of gleaming bikes to your right as you enter the main building, a stereo sound system pumps out Top-40 hits, and unobtrusive salespeople in crisp red shirts with walkie talkies (which I’m sure they need in this IKEA-sized store) roam the aisles. Dorsch gives an enthusiastic tour of the premises, pointing out that, in effect, his business is many stores within a store. “It’s a two-story showroom. There are motorcycles up above looking down. There’s a separate tire and wheel store, a separate lingerie store, a separate boutique, a shoe store, a helmet store, a Fox store, a cell phone store and an optical store.” As we walk from one “store” to another, he speaks enthusiastically about the value of diversifying your product lines in today’s tough economy. “The manufacturers used to say they wanted a single-point store, and there certainly are those Honda-only stores. But with things the way they are today, you don’t go to a hardware store; you go to Wal-Mart, or you go to Target, because you have soup to nuts. We built that here with all the brands, with a big span of vehicles, the accessories, the apparel, even the Sunglass Hut that we put in — we have over 12 brands of sunglasses from $10 up to $500 a pair.”
The key to Fun Bike’s success, says Dorsch, was the ability to accurately predict this big box trend in the business’ early years. “Your dollar volume is going to come from your vehicles, but everything else in the store is a multiple of how many vehicles you’ve sold. Once again, if you’re looking for a sprinkler for your house, you go to Home Depot or Lowe’s because they have everything, and you know you’re going to find it. Well, you might walk out of there with a new lawn mower. A lot of our competitors are starting to upgrade, but we saw the trend five years ago and said we’ve got to be there. I don’t care what the investment is, if we’re going to be in this business long-term, we’ve got to step it up. The smart store is deep in everything.”
He’s also reached out to a broad base of customers, drawing visitors from as far as Miami, three hours away. One historically underserved population that he’s gone out of his way to welcome: women. “We think that retail is a woman’s world. A woman makes about 70 percent of all retail purchases and decisions, so to make your store retail friendly for women is to make it retail friendly for today’s economy. We have everything from a lingerie store (with the company’s own line, Glamour Addiction) to $1,000 jackets to $500 boots. So we want feminine things made for riding. You have all the rugged stuff, we want to see some more custom stuff.”
And really what Dorsch excels at — and what’s apparent from the broad, genuine smiles on the faces of not only customers but employees — is creating a venue to both purchase your bike gear and to enjoy it as well, with entertainment, fun rides, barbecues, restaurants and events. In a word what he’s created? Fun.